Sept 21, 2022–At what point in any journey is the joy of attending an event worth the pain of travel to get there?
Is one night worth six days in a car? Eight hours in a plane? Three weeks on a slow boat?
That was the topic of a recent discussion. Of course, it is an impossible equation to reduce, but it got me to thinking about all the destinations that were not worth any amount of travel.
For me, that would be most of them.
How many of you have been underwhelmed upon arriving at a famous destination?
Start with the granddaddy of American tourism–the Grand Canyon. Years ago a friend from Arizona insisted that I see it. Upon exiting the car, we went to the railing at the South Rim Visitor Center and looked over. After two minutes, I suggested we grab lunch.
OK, I’m sorry. It was a massive scar in the landscape, overwhelming in scale and beauty. My feeble mind could not comprehend that, or react beyond, Wow. I’ve always felt guilty that I didn’t have a religious experience.
I’m ashamed to admit I had similar reactions visiting Machu Picchu and floating down the Amazon. It was impressive being there, and I gained appreciation for the native craftspeople who carved and placed the immense stones with such precision. But what else can be said that hasn’t been said?
If nothing else, visits to historic places gives you context for your reading. Take the Alamo. For most it was an underwhelming experience to see the actual buildings. But for history buffs, having boots on the ground provided context for understanding the epic battle fought there. Same for the Palo Duro Canyon. Again, it was a slice in the ground, and not ground-shaking to drive through. However, going there gives one a better feel for western history and its role as a sanctuary for Native tribes and launching place for the Texas ranching industry.
I do not regret going to any of those places. But did they change my life? Elevate my intellect? Provide fodder for cocktail party conversation? Maybe.
Now we turn to museums. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, the reason we have museums is to have a place to keep things that no one wants to look at.
But seeing art in its natural habitat provides a sense of scale you can’t get looking at a book, where every work in history comes out 8 by 10.
Viewing Picasso’s Guernica, I was struck dumb by its size. Every casual art history fan is familiar with the disturbing content of Picasso’s masterpiece. But no book can convey the sense that its dimensions are nearly 12 feet tall by 25 feet wide. That’s higher than a typical one-story house. Standing in front of it imparted a feeling of oppression, appropriate given its theme of suffering and chaos.
At the other end of the scale, the Mona Lisa is only 30 inches tall by 20 inches. That makes it the most valuable painting in the world. I calculated the value at current prices are $14.5 million per square inch. I guess that’s why you don’t see La Gioconda on a postage stamp.
So, which destinations did and still do give this cynic the goose bumps?
There are three, and all are in Texas.
The first is Port Aransas. Every time I come across that bridge at Corpus Christi and see land literally end before the immensity of the gulf, this Yankee gets emotional. The scale of the seas is something I can never comprehend.
The second is Luckenbach. I still get the the sense this is a special place when I turn onto Town Loop and see the old Post Office. Its essence is unchanged from when I drank my first longneck there in 1978, and enhanced by memories of playing in the hall, hanging out with the many characters, and hearing my wife and sisters sing.
The third location is Fredericksburg itself. While it has changed and is changing from those early times, I feel so fortunate I was able to know the town before it became famous. To eat lunch at The Domino Parlor, munch a donut from Dietz Bakery, dance round the oak at Pat’s Hall, and buy toys at Dooley’s.
That’s why few destinations are worth the journey anymore. I’ll never find a better place than here.